Their senior team experiences go all the way back to 2006, when a 19-year-old Bradley earned a special invite to the US team’s World Cup camp in North Carolina and a 24-year-old Donovan was the star, headed to Germany for his second shot at the World Cup.
Since that summer and this, the two appeared in 48 international matches together, including the 2009 Confederations Cup run, the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup and the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. They played England, Spain, Mexico, the Netherlands, Argentina and Brazil together, and they gave just as many lumps as they took in the process.
But after US head coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s decision Thursday to send Donovan home from the team’s World Cup camp at Stanford University, one more run against the world’s best is now out of the question.
“We’ve talked about Landon, and it’s clear nobody has more respect and appreciation and nobody has seen more of what he’s given to this team and US Soccer than me,” Bradley said Friday. “I came in as a really young player, and I was able to see what he gave to me, the way he trained, the way he played, and I was able to pick up so many things from him.
“But at this point,” Bradley insisted, “there are 23 guys going to the World Cup who are ready to make sure that at the end of the day we’re talking about what’s going on at the World Cup, and not what happened at Stanford in May.”
Donovan’s dismissal from camp was the topic of the day as an emotional week came to a close for the US group, now short one icon in the locker room. But for the veterans still standing and ready for fine-tuning before the team’s departure for Brazil next month, it was a tough balance to both celebrate Donovan’s career accomplishments and focus on the 23 players who made Klinsmann’s cut.
“We all have an incredible amount of respect, appreciation and admiration for everything that Landon’s done for this team and for soccer in this country,” Bradley said. “To see him walk out the door, to see six other guys walk out the door, it’s not easy.
"But at this point, there’s a group for 23 guys who are ready to go to a World Cup … and make this something special. That’s what we’re talking about, and that’s what [the media] should be talking about as well.”
“That was my opinion, but I’ve never made a personnel decision, so my opinion doesn’t really matter. I just have to play,” Howard said. “It’s hard when you see seven guys you’ve been in the trenches with have to go home, and their dreams have been cut short. But that’s the process and I think we understand it, and we move on.”
Donovan was the highest-profile cut, but six other players were sent home one step short of the World Cup. Two of them – Philadelphia Union midfielder Maurice Edu and San Jose Earthquakes defender Clarence Goodson – were on the 2010 World Cup team, while Columbus Crew veteran Michael Parkhurst and Seattle Sounders Brad Evans were both vying for a spot on a crowded back line.
Youngsters Joe Corona and Terrence Boyd were also sent packing.
“The guys who talked out the door are our friends, our teammates, in a lot of cases our brothers,” Bradley said. “When that door gets shut it’s important to make sure these guys understand there’s appreciation and understanding for everything they’ve given.
“But they would also understand that now we’re not going to sit here and talk about Landon Donovan or Clarence Goodson or Maurice Edu for the next month. That’s just not how it works.”
Klinsmann said Friday that he had a positive conversation with Donovan about the roster decision and that Donovan insisted he would accept an emergency call if one of the 23 players gets injured before the World Cup opener against Ghana on June 16.
“It’s bittersweet,” Clint Dempsey said of being selected. “You’re feeling sad for the other guys because you know what it’s like. It’s their dream to be in the World Cup and they’re right there, and it’s a difficult decision for [Klinsmann] to make, but that’s what his job is. We have to support him in what he does, and we’re excited about the 23 we have here.”
Howard echoed those comments, insisting that the team’s players have been supportive of Klinsmann’s roster decisions since he was hired in 2011, and “that doesn’t change because of yesterday.”
Said Howard: “He obviously has a vision for this team that he thinks is a winning one, so we believe in that.”
The Donovan talk will likely dissipate quickly as the team completes its camp at Stanford this weekend and then focuses on its first World Cup tune-up match against Azerbaijan in San Francisco on Tuesday.
And it’s clear that the US players assured of their spot in Brazil are ready to move on to the next line of questioning.
“The World Cup comes once every four years,” Bradley said, “and you don’t want to spend it worrying about decisions made a month beforehand.”